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Hanson: Insiders Tell All
Up-Close-and-Personal With Their Behind-the-Scenes Friends
February, 1998


"Before we learned our instruments," recalls Taylor Hanson, middle brother of the gorgeous guy group Hanson, "we had this thing back in Tulsa where we’d start to sing in every restaurant we’d go to, hoping they’d give us free pizza or something."

Those were the days before Isaac, Taylor and Zachary Hanson had a number One single — the days when few people outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma even knew there was a family named Hanson. Of course, folks who did know them, knew big things were in store! One of the first to take notice of Hanson was Terry Grusik, the Program Director of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

The Mayfest Marvels!

Every year the city of Tulsa celebrates the month of May with an arts festival called Mayfest. Each and every day has a special event planned – from art exhibits, craft fairs and children’s concerts, to theatre productions and poetry readings. It is a month when all of Tulsa comes together to enjoy and share the talents of their citizens.

In 1992, Terry Grusik, who was a volunteer for Mayfest, organized the first ever Community Stage event. "It was designed to feature amateur and professional talent from Tulsa and the surrounding communities," Terry recalls. "Since we had never done it before, we turned the first year into a talent contest. We had preliminaries and had the top twenty-five acts come back and perform for actual prize money on the final Saturday of Mayfest."

Hanson was one of the groups that made it to the finals. The funny thing is that Terry actually knew the boys’ parents. They had all gone to Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa together. "Walker and Diana were a couple of years behind me, but I knew them," he says. "I kinda met them through the theatre department, because U was a theatre person too. One year after I graduated, they had the leads in The King & I production – Walker played the king and Diana was Anna. They were high school sweethearts. I kind of lost track of them after high school. And I didn’t run into them again Mayfest."

That first Mayfest was a major step for the Hanson boys. Ike was 11, Tay was nine and Zac was six. "They were doing a capella numbers or singing against tracks on tape back then," recalls Terry.

Though Hanson didn’t win that first year, they were invited back to Mayfest again and again. As a matter of fact, may 1997 was the first year they didn’t appear – they were a little too busy appearing on David Letterman, Rosie O’Donnell, The Today Show, etc! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

By the tie Hanson appeared at the 1993 Mayfest, they had already started a major buzz in the local area. "Anytime they would perform for me at this festival," Terry recalls, "the area was just covered with young girls. They had quite a fan club – they sent out newsletters and things like that. They did a lot of self-promotion."

And as the crowds for Hanson grew, Terry says he saw them grow as performers too. In the beginning, they just sang a capella, but eventually they played their own instruments in the act. "Taylor played keyboards, Isaac played the guitar and Zac, the youngest one, played the drums," Terry says. "Their dad actually helped them – he played guitar with them some too."

Studio Time!

During those early years, Hanson wasn’t content to perform, though from 1992 to 1996 they appeared at nearly 300 venues. But Hanson wanted to get into the studio and actually record the songs they were writing. Terry Grusik still has the first two CDs Hanson self-produced.

"The first one was Boomerang and it had nine songs on it," he says. "They wrote five songs and did covers of ‘Poison Ivy’ and the Jackson 5’s ‘The Love You Save.’ The second CD was MMMBop. It had the original version of the single ‘MMMBop’ – a slower version. They recorded that CD at the Louis Drapp Studio in Tulsa."

Louis Drapp was a local Tulsa musician, song writer, teacher and music store manager. In 1991 he built a recording studio in his home and started working with musicians. In 1995, Louis received a call from Walker and Diana Hanson. "They may have to be referred to me," he says. "They came over here to see how they liked it – and it was close to their home. We got along real good and they liked working here. They kids were comfortable here."

Sometimes the whole family – including the three youngest Hanson siblings, Jessie, Avery and Mackenzie, would go over to Louis’ studio. But most of the time, Walker and Diana would just drop Ike, Tay and Zac off. They would work, take pizza breaks, and just talk to Louis. They soaked up everything he told them about music! But Louis is the first to admit he was surprised at the natural talent the boys had vocally and on their instruments. "I taught music for fifteen years," Louis explains. "Over the years I got to see where kids were initially and how quickly they learned. [Hanson] is just very gifted and exceptional. When you see them, you realize they’re not just your average keyboard player, guitar player, whatever. They’ve got that extra gift that makes them excel."

Over a period of two to three months, Ike, Tay and Zac worked with Louis on their second CD, MMMBop. Sometimes they would work eight hours a day. And they never seemed to tire of working for perfection. "They were all pretty hard on themselves," Louis recalls. "Even when they would be singing. What impressed me when I first started working with them, was their music knowledge, One of them would be going, ‘Hey you’re singing my part, you’re supposed to be a third above me.’ They’ve been doing this their whole life."

Video Voltage

Things really started to happen after MMMBop. Hanson signed with a management team and was rejected by a dozen or more labels until 1996 and the Hanson family spent the summer months in Los Angeles so the boys could record their debut CD for the label. They worked with legendary writer/producer Steve Lioni. They also worked with The Dust Brothers in whose home studio they actually recorded. And when it came time to do the video for the first single "MMMBop," they shot much of it in the Dust Brothers living room!

The director of the "MMMBop" video was Tamara Davis. She had worked with Mercury acts before, and when they sent her several tapes of new groups, she immediately picked Hanson to work with. "When I saw their picture and saw how cute they were and heard their song, I really liked them," she says. "Their music was different. It was pop, but they looked like they were going to sound like Nirvana, like a rock band. But when I heard their music, they sounded more like the Jackson 5. I thought they were really wonderful."

When Tamara first met Ike, Tay and Zac, she was very impressed and she knew she wanted their input on the video. When they discussed "MMMBop," the boys told Tamara they viewed it as kind of a time travel song – you’re here, then you’re there. "They told me they wanted it to look like Honey, I Shrunk The Kids," she laughs. "I really enjoyed that as their point of reference because I don’t know that would have been mine. I think this video really reflects who they are."

At one point in the video the boys leave the house. "I wanted them to ride bicycles to get to the park. Cool Schwinn, low-rider bikes," says Tamara. "They didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to make a big deal, so I asked them how they wanted to go. They were like, ‘Let’s take a cab, and and then a bus, and then a …’ They were laughing. They didn’t want to ride bicycles because they thought it would make them look too young!"

Tamara took their suggestions and "MMMBop" turned out to be one of the top videos of 1997. And Hanson so enjoyed working with Tamara, they asked her back to direct their second video, "Where’s The Love."

One thing all of these behind-the-scenes friends of Hanson have in common is the respect and affection they have for Ike, Tay, Zac, and Diana, Walker, Jessie, Avery, and Mackie. To Terry Grusik, Louis Drapp, Tamara Davis and all the others who worked with Hanson on the way to the boys’ success feels like something they’ve earned, something they clearly deserve.